Lace Origin Story – Seaweed, lace and the Sea


Here is a legend about the origin of lace in Venice, found in a newspaper called the Placer Herald in 1899. The article reads:

A Legend of Lace-Making.
Many are the myths banded down in relation to the origin of lace-making and of the number one has to select her choice and pin her faith to, discarding the other stories as mere fables. * Here is a very pretty myth, in fact one of the prettiest of all the legends, perhaps: It tells of a Venetian sailor who. on the eve of a sea voyage, gave to the woman he loved a piece of beautiful seaweed to keep during his absence in memory of him. He sailed away, and the girl carefully kept the gift with tender love, and the endurance of his love for her depended upon its preservation. When she saw the seaweed drying up and falling to pieces, she caught the leaves and branches with a fine thread against a piece of linen, and thus invented lace. The lace-maker’s art can be traced back to one thousand years before Christ. The finer laces appeared about the first of the sixteenth century.

According to Professor David Hopkin, the earliest written account of this legend occurs in Bury Palliser’s History of Lace. There are various versions of this Venetian legend, and in some the love token is coral rather than seaweed.
It is a very romantic tale, and also refers again to the association of lace making with the sea, and to sailors. Lace making is often associated to coastal areas and sometimes a connection is made between net making and lace making, those these aren’t necessarily linked. While the basic pattern of a simple lace net is similar, the tools used are very different.

It also reminds me of the suggestion that fish bones could have, in some areas, been used as pins (see separate post about pins!).
When trying to find Victorian images of seaweed, I came across an article about the Victorian craze for collecting seaweed. The idea of scrap booking became very popular in the Victorian era, as “leisure time” became a new idea, and influential naturalists such as Darwin encouraged people to take an interest in nature. The increase of time spent in the parlour or “withdrawing room” also encouraged people to furnish their homes with decorations inspired by the natural world, and improvements in printing technology led to the production of romantic imagery designed for scrap booking.

As this particular legend about the origin of lace was first found in the Bury Palliser’s Victorian book A History of Lace, I find this quite interesting.

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